"Temporality is part of the truth" -- Chuck Klosterman

Saturday, April 30, 2011

A Star is Born, part two: The Birth of Cool

Xander was supposed to be born on December 25, a Christmas miracle. He was almost born on October 10. Instead, he was born on November 15, 2010. It was a long and costly ordeal, but this is the result:
He's happy to be here.
If you missed it, read part one of this yarn here. The following might make slightly more sense.

The doctors told us that it was safer at 34 weeks for the baby to be born than to remain in utero sans amniotic fluid. On Sunday, November 14, sleeping on the hospital couch like I'd done many nights for weeks now, I awoke early to the nurse's administrations as she monitored May and the baby. Xander seemed ready. He was active, practicing his leg extensions or something, and there was still no sign of infection in either mom or baby, so we were told to prepare ourselves.

May had been sequestered in a long-term care room, and we had made it our own over the weeks. I had brought dozens of DVDs and books from home. The wide windowsill held a veritable electronics store: iPods, Kindles, laptops, speakers, reading lamps, cell phones. Two of each of those items. Literally. Our clothes spilled out of duffel bags in various locations throughout the room. The small refrigerator the hospital provided was stocked with snack puddings, leftover sandwiches, and cans of Mountain Dew, for me.

Now we had to pack it all up. The nurses equivocated about it all week. "You'll be moved to a labor room when we start the induction, and you'll be there until after you deliver," they said. "But we don't know if maybe we're going to need this room while you're in labor, so it might be best if you probably take most of your belongings with you." They had busy days in the maternity wing while we occupied that room, sure, but there were always empty rooms. Still, the room would be unoccupied while we were otherwise engaged, so I took all of the electronics out to our locked car in the parking lot.

May's sister and parents joined us after the lunching hour. Her parents were worried they'd miss something because they couldn't come earlier. We were informed, however, that the doctors had to perform two emergency C-sections that morning, and it would be a while before anyone could get to us. So we waited and gossiped and played Scrabble on May's sister's phone for four hours which prompted me to get Scrabble for my oldest daughter's phone just so I could play Scrabble when I'm bored. My phone's just a phone.

Around 5:00 in the afternoon (remember, we were awakened about 12 hours before), we finally occupied a labor room. May was presented with a pill to get her gears moving (neither of us can now remember what the medicine was called; it started with an S, maybe, and it's supposed to instigate a lighter, slower induction than the usual Pitocin). I ate one last Philly Cheesesteak from the cafeteria downstairs and May ate some salmon that her nurse turned a blind eye to. We expected to be there for the next 24 hours or so.

Still slightly happy to be doing this.
During the next two hours, every movement of May's uterus was recorded. The printout showed some small spikes, and May could feel something happening to her tummy, but I insisted she wasn't contracting yet. She'd felt little twinges like this the entire time she'd been in the hospital. Besides, she'd know it when it happened. Of course, then the nurse had to swoop in and contradict me.

Her contractions were regular if not strong, and labor was officially knocking at the door. At 7:00, they opted against a second dose of the meds. She was dilated to a two, which was pretty much where she started, and the effacement was changing not at all, but she was contracting.

The family units had to get home. We decided that they should get some sleep now in the event that she gives birth in the wee small hours of the morning. They left around 9:00, and I assured them I'd call when May was closer. With fewer people in the room, May turned to pacing, which helps labor but makes me nervous. We now had a view of the other side of the hospital. It was a gray day outside, so we turned down the lights and watched the sparkling evening threaten to snow.

At 10:00 I was on the couch, taking a Dagwood nap. I doubt May slept, but she seemed relaxed and ready for the Pitocin at 11:00. She was dilated to a three. At this rate Xander would be here in fifteen more hours. But all the Pitocin seemed good for was bringing the pain.

May hit the wall around 1:00 in the morning. The contractions were bigger, stronger, faster. Like a high school athlete taking gym class seriously. I asked her what she was waiting for, and she couldn't give much of a coherent answer. She can now say that she knew all along that she wanted an epidural and that she could get it any time she wanted along the way. But maybe by waiting, she was able to experience part of the birth that would be denied by the drugs.

The epidural needle. Yikes!
Getting an epidural at this point seemed almost not worth it. Time was a factor because they can't come right on in and stick a needle in your spine just like that as soon as you ask. The anesthesiologist needed to be paged and the equipment set up and the husband properly prepared. My job was to hold my wife perfectly still while they shoved a catheter into her spinal column. I had to wear a surgical mask because during the procedure everything had to be sterile. I hate those things. I can't breath right when I'm wearing one, and I could feel myself get light-headed during the procedure. I very nearly fainted while I was supposed to be restraining my wife. I literally swooned and only saved myself from certain humiliation and possible jeopardy to my wife and child by sheer force of will.

Thus, with little help from me, by 2:00 May was comfortable, most of the pain dispelled. But she was only dilated to a four. Not making much progress. We actually slept. It was a short respite.

No longer having any fun.
By 3:00, she was in pain again. It was now worse than before the epidural. The nurse was taken by surprise, it seemed, and her consult with the anesthesiologist took too long and didn't really pay off. By 4:00, the dose of medication had been increased, but I think it was just too late. The next hour was managed by waiting out contractions, back massage, and a little whimpering, probably from the both of us.

Then, just before 5:00, May was suddenly fully dilated and effaced and ready to birth a baby boy. Apparently contractions that can rip right through an epidural pain block are contractions that want that baby out. I called my in-laws and said she's ready. It would happen soon.

The next half hour went wicked fast. The epidural had worn down and May was in massive pain. I massaged her shoulders and back and held her hand and she sat in the fetal position while the medical professionals took their time. The nurse said the doc was on the way and the NICU team would be here soon.

When the doc arrived and was able to do her examination, she said she could feel the head. But Xander was the only one ready. The medicos scrambled to put a sheet underneath and May was pushing and the doctor had one hand on May and one hand telling others what to do. After two pushes, Xander was crowning.

May's mother and sister walked in right behind the NICU team. There were five or six of them on the team. That added up to a sudden fifteen or sixteen people in the room when mere minutes before it had been just my wife and I with the occasional nurse. The NICU doctor complained that he wasn't told May was so far along. As if anyone knew she was that far along.

My mother-in-law took up residence opposite me, each of us grasping one of May's legs. On the third push, Xander's shoulders emerged and the rest of him just slipped right out. The ultimate water slide. The doctor almost missed him and let him drop onto the disheveled sheet. But she held on.
So skinny. No wonder he just slid out.

Without any prompting, up rose this tiny, airy wail. Our one big worry was about the state of Xander's lung development, and when I heard his soft, quiet bellow, I knew he would be okay. I laughed out loud to keep myself from crying.

The doctor handed me the scissors to cut the umbilical cord. The scissors were large and bent in the middle, I guess to give you leverage or something because that cord is tough. It ought to be; you don't want it tearing like the hose to the wiper fluid. After a couple good slices, I was able to sever the metaphorical apron string.

Alexander Brent Wescott was born at 5:32 a.m. on Monday, November 15, 2010, after twelve hours of labor. He didn't come home, however, until a month later. More about that later in the third part of "A Star is Born."
The Birth of Cool, indeed.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

I Put Baby in the Corner

I had such lofty goals. My Netflix cue was paved with only the best intentions. But, alas, I fear time has run out.

When we brought the baby home from the hospital back in December, we set up a feeding station in the nursery. Our comfy glider/rocking chair fit perfectly in the corner between the crib and dresser drawers. We set up a small shelving unit and situated in it the hospital-grade breast pump we rented and a couple of baskets for various feeding accessories. Mostly, though, the baskets ended up storing our Kindles and iPods.

This is as good a place as any to mention that May wanted to nurse the baby and began pumping her breast milk as soon as she could after Xander was born. He nursed now and then as he learned to eat during the month he was in the hospital. (See here for the beginning of that story. The rest is still pending.) But when we took him home and were left to our own devices, we worried about his nutrition. He needed calories, and with breast feeding we couldn't tell how much he was actually processing. We decided that May would continue to pump--breast milk being the best milk--but that we would bottle feed him so that we could monitor his intake.
Still in the hospital.
At home. But the bottle is bigger than his head. Is that normal?

As we learned to feed the little tyke, it became a two-handed job. One hand had to hold him upright so that gravity could work the milk down to his stomach, while the other hand made certain he didn't get too much at once. Plus, it was a time-consuming task. He ate slowly and needed to be burped often. If we didn't hold him upright for at least a half hour after feeding, the milk would simply ooze back up this throat and leak out of his mouth. Sometimes violently. Talk about heartburn. Thus, for me, iPod listening and Kindle reading became an important part of the process.

Walking a fine line between teenage wit and adult situations.
May, however, couldn't read while pumping, even on a Kindle, because both of her hands were occupied. So she set a laptop on the top shelf next to the comfy chair, bought some elegant new computer speakers, and began watching TV online. Just a few months before May went into the hospital, we had discovered the joys of streaming television shows on Netflix. In the space of about two weeks last summer, I watched the entire series of Veronica Mars, down to the enticing and infuriating series-ender that ended nothing. Stupid cancellation. Murmur, murmur, grumble.

So once I was confident enough that Xander wasn't going to choke if I didn't witness every second of his ingestion, I, too, began to watch Netflix in the corner. And since last summer, the Netflix offerings have become just better and better.

Nothing to do with Ender's Game except the title.
I watched all of the Futurama episodes they had available. Then they put up the more recent Futurama movies and the most recent season aired on Comedy Central. It's not the Simpsons, but there's some pretty darn clever parody going on there. One episode has the entire cast of the original Star Trek trapped on a planet with an all-powerful, infantile non-corporeal entity, and only the Planet Express crew can save their heads and bring them back to earth. I watched this episode at like 2:30 in the morning and laughed so much I couldn't get back to sleep.

I started watching the seventies TV show Soap. This is supposedly one of the best television shows ever, but I was hardly aware of its existence when I was growing up. I'm sure my parents kept me far, far away.

(True story: They also didn't let my siblings and me watch Three's Company and The Jeffersons. I could understand, since I sneaked peaks of it as often as I could, why they didn't want their kids watching the sexed-up Three's Company, but I never really knew what was wrong with The Jeffersons. As I got older, I wondered if my parents might be a little bit racist and didn't want us to watch a black family moving it on up, but when I finally asked, I discovered that my parents just thought the show was stupid.)

Back to Soap, this show was a send up of soap operas, with all the crazy affairs and murders and misunderstandings common to a regular soap, but played for laughs. And it was funny, even if it was over-acted and starred Katherine Helmond. I can't stand Katherine Helmond. Even in the great movie Brazil, I can't stand her. The funniest bits of this show, peculiarly, are the jokes given to the ventriloquist Chuck who acts as though his puppet Bob were alive. They don't have much to do with any of the story lines on the show, but the one-liners are sharp and it all pays off when one of the other characters (all of whom think Chuck is insane) forgets for a moment and behaves as if Bob were alive, too. If you are a Soap novice, I dare you to watch this and not laugh.

Anyway, by the time I got the end of season two, there were demon-possessed babies and alien abductions, and that "outrageousness" turned me off so I moved on to Scrubs.

I watched Scrubs sporadically when it was on TV, but it always made me laugh. So whilst feeding the baby, I've gone through all nine seasons. Some episodes are extremely clever, like the one with all the Wizard of Oz references or the musical one (which was really just a Buffy knock-off, but still funny). The voice-overs and lessons learned every episode are a little too saccharine, but the zany characters and weird JD fantasies get me every time. And I liked the way music was incorporated into the shows. Sometimes Ted and his a capella group sings TV theme songs or his girlfriend, Gooch, makes up funny songs on her ukulele. And the entire, white-robe-clad Polyphonic Spree shows up. And Colin Hay is kind of a recurring troubadour, strumming his guitar, singing some Men at Work. He even appears in the series finale at the end of season 8.

Watching it from the beginning, I noticed that JD gets gayer every season (not-that-there's-anything-wrong-with-that five!), and the last season is extraneous, but it's still enjoyable television.

Now Xander's grown to the point where sometimes he only needs ten minutes to chug down his bottle and he doesn't need to be burped anymore. So the television watching has really slowed down. I can't even watch a 40 minute episode of anything without him struggling to get out and away from the corner he's kept in. I really didn't mean for this to become a commercial for Netflix, but it makes me a little sad. The boy is growing up so fast I might never get to all those Stargates. Or finish the Rescue Me series. Or even Soap. Or rewatch all of Torchwood. Netflix now offers every episode of Cheers and The Cosby Show. I hardly even know what to do. I think my TV time is up.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Classroom Comedy of Errors

This is how my third period class went on Friday. It might only be really funny to another teacher, but I submit it for your approval no matter what you are.

Alas, we read the original. Minimal carnage.
In my IB (honors) class, all students are required to complete oral assessments, commenting on a passage from certain texts. This time it was Pride and Prejudice. In order to complete this task in one day, they rotate in groups of three from planning time (A) to speaking time (B) to being a recorder (C). In effect, there are six or seven students recording their commentaries into a digital device at the same time.

I had previously arranged to use a nearby empty room for the planning stage. So I took the first group (A) down the hall, and the room was locked. The teacher had told me she'd be there, but there she was not. I found out later that the main office called at the end of second period and asked this teacher to cover a gym class. (It happens often that there aren't enough substitutes and teachers are asked to cover a class during their planning periods. This teacher told me that the second she agreed to do this she knew it was a bad idea. But the trials of covering a gym class full of ADHD fourteen-year-olds is another story.)

I scrambled, breaking into the break room where teachers of freshmen were lunching, asking if I could borrow some classroom space. The teacher with the nearest room was gracious and opened her door for us (remember, I have a gaggle of students pursuing me through the halls now), but she had a class returning from lunch in under 25 minutes. Since the planning stage took ten minutes each, I was only able to rotate two groups into that empty room to plan before the group of freshmen overran their teacher acting as hall monitor and demanded entrance.

The third group's planning time was taken in the teacher work room, a space sacred to teachers who have other classes in their rooms during their planning time or otherwise need to use an extra computer or just sit alone with their thoughts when they have a spare few minutes. Some teachers might not have their own rooms at all; this is their office space and they keep private belonging in the work room. Students aren't allowed in. But I took a chance and put them there for ten minutes while I monitored the second round of recording. Fortunately, everything went swimmingly. The students planned, they commented, and we completed the assessments.

That was only the beginning. Our class periods are 100 minute blocks; we were 45 minutes in.

Need a student to comply? Try this.
It had been a long week for us all. Not only did they have the Pride and Prejudice oral commentary assessment due that day, but all week long after school, these students were giving 10-15 minute oral presentations on another text of their choice. This takes a lot of studying and planning for a lot of presenting and assessing all at essentially the same time. Because of this, at the beginning of class I plied them with doughnuts, and when the commentaries were done, I offered them chocolate. How cool am I?

It turns out: very. The kids behaved splendidly through the next set of errors.They were jovial and respectful, despite the sugar rush, and they might have even learned a thing or two about Shakespeare.

I collected their Pride and Prejudice books and checked out to each student a copy of Hamlet. The groaning was minimal. I introduce Shakespeare with an amusing quiz about some general Shakespeare trivia. Multiple choice questions like "What were Shakespeare's parents named?" with answer choices like "Barack and Michelle" and "Kermit and Miss Piggy." Or "What was Shakespeare's acting troupe called?" "Monty Python" or "Pink Floyd"? The real answers were in there somewhere, so it becomes info-tainment in it's highest form.

The clickers are so old-school.

In order to participate in this merriment, I used some software called ActivInspire to create what's called a "flipchart" on a "smartboard" where students can use a "clicker" to enter in their answers to each question. It's rather cool technology that's supposed keep the kids engaged while not realizing they're learning. Unfortunately, when I opened the quiz, the computer didn't recognize the software, despite the fact that I checked it that morning and it was working just fine. So I closed and opened computer thingies for about five minutes before it started up correctly. Then the clickers didn't work. At first, it was my fault because I forgot to put the ActivInspire hub in the USB port, but even after I did that, the software wouldn't read the clickers.

I admit that every time I use this software, I have to relearn some things; in fact, the students sometimes know better how to get it going than I do. So, after another few minutes, and with some helpful suggestions from the peanut gallery, the world-renowned Shakespeare factoid quiz was underway. Except that it now did not recognize the correct answers. I swear I did this same quiz last year, and it wasn't this much of a pain. It wasn't a huge problem. I could just tell the kids the right answer after they had entered their choices. But I'd forgotten the answers to a few. For instance, "How many plays did Shakespeare write?" I knew it was 36 or 37, so I just told them it was 36 and moved on. Like anyone remembers Coriolanus anyway.

Quiz over, students getting squirrely, and we still had 20 minutes left in class. I'd planned to show a video about Shakespeare and tragedy that can stream through a website called Discovery Education. Like the flipchart software, I don't want to denigrate this useful educational tool, because it's chock full of swell resources for the classroom, but if you couldn't tell already, Friday wasn't my day. The video loaded so slowly, I thought the students would revolt. Then, once it was streaming, I was informed through loud beeps and whistles that you could only go full screen through Internet Explorer. Seriously? Who makes their interweb applications only work through Microsoft products these days. Corporate stooges, that's who. So after another excruciating few minutes, the video was loaded on full screen and projected onto the smartboard, which is located in the exact worst spot in my room (but that's also another story), and I thought I might could breath for the last ten minutes of class.

Olivier or Hawke? Who's more Hamlet?
About five seconds after I sat down, the video stopped, that annoying "buffering" notice appeared and we waited. It started, stopped, and we waited some more. And again. And again. Like I said, great resource, but they could set it up so their streaming videos actually stream. Otherwise, nobody learns nothin'.

We ended up reviewing the Hamlet text they received, and I admonished them not to simply read the synopsis of each scene at the end of each scene. And not to watch any version on film until later. Shakespeare's about the language, people. Read it and weep. In a good way.

So there you have it: such a series of events. The students handled it with aplomb, and I was able to adapt and do things slightly different for fourth period. Still, since it was the last period of the day, they acted a little more like they were hepped up on goofballs than third period students.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A New Man

A few weeks ago I watched another father carrying his little girl around at church. She couldn't have been more than a month older than Xander. She might have even been Xander's age, just born on time. Anyway, this father was carrying her around like fathers do: football style, superbaby style, underhand seat style. But something was amiss. I couldn't put my finger on it.

Xander wasn't with me. We hadn't taken him out much at that point, and we definitely weren't taking him to church. Old people wheezing and sneezing into their gooey handkerchiefs. Toddlers touching every surface in the chapel with their grubby little hands. I exaggerate, but my wife's sister's two kids were perfectly healthy for 18 months, the age when Mormon babies are allowed in the nursery at church while their parents go to Sunday School. Within hours both kids ended up in the hospital with RSV. True story.

An old-timey oxygen tank. No shoulder straps.
So I watched this other father, and I kept looking behind him, like I saw him drop something, but he hadn't. I expected something to be trailing his path, like a wake. Then I realized what was missing: no oxygen tube connected him to his daughter's nose. I had grown so accustomed to literally watching my step, my every move while I held Xander, aware at all times of where his oxygen cannula was and how it extended away from us, reaching down and out and behind to keep track of the tubing so it didn't end up under foot or catch on a corner or under the furniture--I was so used to this behavior in myself that I expected it from others. Doesn't every parent have to watch out not to get their cannula tubing stuck on things as they moved about the world? Where is your oxygen tank? And why is that baby even at church? Doesn't he know this place is a crater of bacteria and germs just biding their time until some unsuspecting child puts his hand from pew to mouth?

Apparently I'd adapted to the oxygen cannula situation so thoroughly that I couldn't separate it from the rest of the world. I had two daughters before Xander, and I never had to consider bulky medical accouterments as part of my parenting. But I do now. It's not like it's that terrible. Turning one tank on and another off only gets tricky when you forget to turn on the one you're now connecting to. Plugging and unplugging the tubing only gets complicated when you can't pull the end off of the small tank because your wife really cranked it on there this time. And carrying the tank on your shoulder while you travel from place to place only gets annoying when you've got several other bags on your shoulder and you accidentally let the wrong strap loose first.

I can do this indefinitely.

But it looks like I won't have to. Check it out:
What's missing from this picture?

Sorry for the teaser, but we're weaning Xander off the oxygen. At the doctor's office yesterday, he passed his room air challenge and we were told to go ahead and turn his oxygen off for several hours a day, like three in the morning and three in the afternoon. He needs the oxygen most when he sleeps, so nap time and night time will still require the cannula. But before we left the doctor, we took the cannula off his face and it was a revelation. He is a new man. Such a nose. And an upper lip. I kinda forgot he had those. And you can see up his nostrils. He has boogers. Cute, gross boogers. Though he's done it every day for weeks and weeks now, it's like he smiled at me for the first time.

We're also trying out some mashed bananas. He seems to like the taste, but who knows if he's actually swallowing any.
Mommy, do I have to?

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How I Learned to Read Comic Books and Love the Superhero

He's Invincible. You can tell.
Note: I originally wrote this as an exercise to show my students about responding to and reviewing a text. I reprint it here with my permission. (Also, check out my other book reviews by hovering over the Shelfari down there.)

When I started reading comic books in earnest a few years ago, I decided that the best ones are about new superheroes or characters with no superpowers at all. Robert Kirkman’s Invincible and The Walking Dead, Brian K. Vaughn’s Y the Last Man and Ex Machina, or Bill Willingham's Fables immediately spring to mind. I tried, but I couldn’t really get into the old characters—Spiderman, Batman, Superman—with their story lines that go back fifty-plus years. Even the contemporary issues of these titles have a stale feeling to them, like everything’s been said that can be said. And the old comics are difficult enough to read if only for the outdated art and coloring. It’s like watching The Love Boat and recognizing that however sleek and sexy it might have once been, it’s that much more awful and even offensive today. (Witness: my similar problem with watching old episodes of Doctor Who.) Then I came across the DC Comics Crisis stories and realized I might be able to read about some of these classic characters without feeling like I’m reading every hero-in-tights story rehashed from the beginning of time.

I can't tell what's going on here.
The Crisis series actually begins back in 1985 (that date almost put me off right there; I mean, when does anyone read pre-Watchmen comics any more?), with a DC anniversary event called Crisis on Infinite Earths, a 12-part series designed to gather all the differing and contradictory threads of DC universe and kind of start all over. The thinking was that the universe they had created over the years was becoming too complicated, with too many versions of too many superheroes, for new readers to dare become interested. (All of which mirrors my thinking pretty closely.) So with Crisis on Infinite Earths, they kill off several characters and destroy every external dimension and universe except one: Earth One remained, and the writers could rebuild from there. 

Knowing this was enough for me to become interested in the new DC anniversary event from 2005 called Infinite Crisis, a sequel of sorts to Crisis on Infinite Earths. Infinite Crisis was, like Crisis on Infinite Earths, supposed to be able to get new readers interested and involved in their world. Here is where I figured I could begin my attempt at understanding the myriad of characters and stories in the DC world. Then (see, you have to do a lot of reading before you do any reading) I found out that before DC published Infinite Crisis, they published several “lead-up” comics to build interest in the “event” of Infinite Crisis. Which meant, unfortunately, that if I really wanted to get involved, I needed to read these “Countdown to Infinite Crisis” stories as well. Reluctantly, I gave it a try.

The first in the “Countdown” series is Identity Crisis. I was hugely surprised. As a hint of the “event” to come, it’s a doozy. Brad Meltzer--whose day job is penning political thriller and intrigue novels, the kind I don’t often read, so I didn’t know who Meltzer was until I read this graphic novel--has written a self-contained mystery that introduces novice comic readers like myself to many of the time-worn DC superheroes in a way that makes them human, believable, and identifiable.

Go, go gadget elongation!
The story begins with the murder of the wife of the Elongated Man, apparently a long-time member of the Justice League. My skepticism kicked in by wondering why there are so many similar superheroes with similar powers: Plastic Man, the guy from the Fantastic Four, not to mention my favorite childhood toy, Stretch Armstrong, all have the same stretchy/morphy abilities as this Elongated Man. So why start with this knock-off character I’ve never heard of? By the end of the first chapter, however, I felt for the guy. Meltzer makes the Elongated Man’s relationship with his wife pure and loving, and Rags Morales, the artist, draws the Elongated Man in his grief and makes it heartbreaking. In one panel, you see his anguish simply by the fact that he can’t keep his jaw hinged onto his face.

The rest of the story is about the Justice League’s attempts to find the killer. Other family members of superheroes are threatened despite all the secret identities, and facts surface about past encounters with certain supervillains. One baddie is called Dr. Light, and we find out he once before discovered the identity of the Elongated Man’s wife, threatened her, and had to be dealt with. Since the superheroes don’t normally kill their enemies if they can help it, they decide in the spur of the moment to wipe his mind with a controversial magical procedure. This, naturally, drives him more crazy than he was already, and the repercussions of this mind-wipe are felt throughout the super community. The revelation of this event causes a schism within the League and the other groups of heroes they encounter.

The Green Stare
Most of the book is narrated by the Green Arrow, a character I’d heard of but about whom I’ve never known much. Meltzer includes Green Arrow’s reflections on the other heroes as a way to ponder his own needs and emotions, as he grieves for the loss of friends and relatives. Also, I found it interesting that Green Arrow always calls the other heroes by their real names, not their superhero names. Batman is Bruce. Superman is Clark. This brings his character to a relatable, human level, where he’s showing how he’s dealing with actual people, not out-of-this-world experiences that we readers can’t connect to.

Meltzer makes us question what we know about these heroes, while clearly showing that the heroes themselves aren’t sure what they know. The new Robin’s father finds out his son has been running around with Batman at night, putting himself in mortal danger, so Robin attempts to finally make a connection with his father. The hero Atom is able to reconcile with his ex-wife and start the relationship anew. And you know from the tone that both of these relationships are doomed. Even Clark Kent—perfect Superman—finds himself becoming estranged from his adopted parents out on their Kansas farm. This story is much more about these familial interactions than it is about fighting bad guys with super powers.

That’s why it’s such a great introduction to this universe, to these heroes. This is a first-class murder-mystery that just happens to involve heroes with super powers. Blame Watchmen, blame the new breed of superhero movies, but superheroes today are flawed and human. And that’s the only way to get a pedestrian cynic like me to appreciate what DC is trying to do with its Crisis series and accept new stories from these fabled characters.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Clever Title About Why You Should Watch Doctor Who

You could say I've been a science fiction geek from a pretty early age. But growing up, I didn't watch Doctor Who. All I knew about it was a mishmash of sci-fi hokum, cheesy effects, big white-guy afros, and somehow Gary Glitter was mixed up in there, too. I'd seen bits of the show on PBS stations early Saturday mornings or late Friday nights, but it always seemed at least a decade dated and I could only watch for a few moments before losing interest. I remember once distinctly thinking I was watching cable access, like someone was making their own version of Doctor Who in their backyard, when Tom Baker entered the shot and I realized it was the real show.
How I knew who Tom Baker was, I don't know. Perhaps my hyper-awareness of the goings-on in pop culture began before I knew it. Perhaps I'm just a giant nerd.

Then in 2005 or thereabouts (it might have been 2006 when it started in America), I saw ads that the SciFi channel was going to start broadcasting a new version of Doctor Who, and I ranked it right up there with the SciFi Saturday night features like The Big Radioactive Skunk Terror starring Dana Plato and Willie Aames.

Dude, you gotta have a poker face like me.
So I don't know what compelled me to check out the show. Some lingering longing to know what Doctor Who was all about. To know what has made this concept one of the longest-running in the history of television. To know why a Timelord would travel in a phone booth. Which is a perfectly legitimate question coming from a guy who chose to see Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure for a second time, rather than wait in line just to park for a concert at Red Rocks. (In case that reference was just too abstruse, Bill and Ted travel through time in a phone booth, it's still a freakin' hilarious movie, and parking at Red Rocks is an expensive nightmare.)

The first episode of Doctor Who I saw was called "Father's Day," half-way into Series One. Christopher Eccleston is the Ninth Doctor, and Billie Piper is Rose, The Doctor's current companion. (Another aside for the neophytes: The Doctor regenerates when he gets wounded. He can die, but he doesn't. He just changes shape and looks different. This is convenient, obviously, as a new actor can play The Doctor and we don't go, "Why is Darrin Stephens a different man now?" And The Doctor almost always travels with a female companion. It's not as creepy as it might sound.)
Don't worry, Rose, I'll soon be invisible on Heroes.

Anyway, Rose lost her father and never knew him. In this episode, Rose goes back in time and meets her father on the day he's supposed to die. Of course Rose wants to save him, even though The Doctor is adamant about not changing certain events in time. They all end up being trapped together with a wedding party in a church that's threatened by some bad CGI bat-things The Doctor calls Reapers. I would have been turned off by the shoddy effects, thinking that they could have tried to do things better than they did thirty years ago, but I was already drawn in by funny dialogue, a clever time paradox story, and stellar acting. By the end of the episode (no spoiler here: you know Rose wouldn't be able to save her father), I totally felt Rose's loss and I loved the way The Doctor handled the situation.

He married her. Who needs an Emmy?
That episode's not even one of the best. More than a few episodes have left me emotionally moved. There's a danger that others might find the show overly sentimental, but I think the writers have found just the right balance of actual sentiment and heavy-handedness. The music swells, sometimes people die, and the actors are awesome. What they say is sometimes sci-fi gibberish worse than Star Trek engineering speak ("Captain, the dilithium warp drive has reversed the transdimentionality of the starboard nacelle. It's dead, Jim.") And sometimes they're saying it to clumsy robots or clumsily rendered CGI or rubber-faced monsters, but they do it with humor and gusto. David Tennant really should be recognized for his work as the Tenth Doctor. (My understanding is that the show is fairly popular in Britain, so he probably has all the props he deserves. Plus, he married Georgia Moffett after she was a guest star on the episode "The Doctor's Daughter" in Series Four.)

Most of the effects are passable, despite my complaining, but for some reason the main baddies are still just as cheesy as they looked back in 1973. Maybe they're working with models that were created so long ago and felt they shouldn't change or something. But it is a lot to ask us to consider the Daleks the worst threat in the universe when they sound like they're speaking through a harmonica and they shoot death rays out of the toilet plungers jutting from they're bejeweled, soda-can casings.

Why do even angel statues look sinister?
Sometimes they get the antagonists just right, though. One of the best episodes is called "Blink," and the evil aliens are creepy angel statues. It's another brainy, time paradox kind of story, and the brilliant part is that The Doctor and his companion (Martha Jones in Series Three) are really just peripheral characters. Another great episode from Series Two called "Love and Monsters" is told from the point of view of a character obsessed with finding The Doctor, and The Doctor and Rose are barely in it. Great, witty storytelling.

What's that on your forehead?
There's an Eleventh Doctor in town now. He's played by Matt Smith. His companion is Amy Pond. They're pretty cute together, but I've forgotten almost everything about the Series 5 I watched last year. I'm sure it will come back to me when Series 6 begins in America on April 23.

Sing Blue Silver for me, would ya?
I've already said more than you care to know, but I would be remiss if I failed to mention Torchwood. In this spinoff series, Torchwood is an organization that was actually The Doctor's nemesis in Series Two. Then Captain Jack Harkness (played by John Borrowman, who my wife always wishes would break into song) took the reigns of the organization, and now they fight for good. The show itself isn't as rewarding as Doctor Who, and maybe that's because they try to deal with more "adult" themes. The characters have sex and say lots of swears that were mostly bleeped out when it aired on BBCAmerica, but remain in the originals that you stream through Netflix. It's a little distracting, to tell the truth. But you gotta love Captain Jack, and the reveal in Doctor Who Series 3, episode "The Last of the Timelords," about who Captain Jack turns out to be is tremendously gratifying.

I've tried several times now to watch some of the old shows with all the old Doctors. I still can't stomach it. Someone needs to tell me why I'm wrong.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Belly Button and Two Too-Toos

You've been dying to know. It's been stressing you out. You've had bad dreams. The thought of it makes you want to go kick a teacher in the shins.

So I present to you...his first time at the cotillion...let's give it up for...Xander's normal belly button! Yay! (Imagine Kermit the Frog here.) If you missed the previous post with the gargantuan outie, read this.
It might even be an innie.

Time isn't acting at full strength, however. It performed its magic on his tummy region, but his lungs still need some work. If you missed my post about his need for piped in air, read this. He's on 1/16 of a liter of oxygen, which is a tiny amount, but it's what he needs so that he doesn't over-exert himself. We lug him around with his nasal cannula trailing behind, but once a day for an hour, we're allowed to turn off the oxygen. I suppose it helps build his stamina. We can now take him outside for little while, or carry him downstairs, and we don't have to schlep a tank of oxygen over a shoulder.

Finally, I must rejoice at the Changing of the Pacifier. My oldest daughter called hers a "too-too." So that's what I think when I consider which face plug to insert in my son's mouth. First, there's the transparent green too-too that began its tenure in the hospital and allows full view of the inside of the child's mouth when you look straight at it. It's disturbing.
Out with the old...

But look at how nicely this butterfly model shapes the lad's face. This makes him look more like a baby and less like a stopped up sink. He can almost grab it and put it in himself, too-too. Ha.
...in with the new.

And because cuteness counts:
 Isn't he silly? He's wearing a diaper on...his...head!

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Real Test

My feet hurt. I have a headache. I forgot my water bottle today and by lunchtime I was parched. My lips were dry, my throat was scratchy, and my temples throbbed. I was not ready to go back to school today.

I like the built-in straw.
But tomorrow I will have my water bottle handy, and it will be a better day.

Actually, other than my little dehydration predicament, the first day back from paternity leave went swimmingly.

My class of seniors is down to six students. Ten are on the roster, and one girl tends to leave halfway through the period and not come back. She had a nurse emergency today. I've decided not to argue with her about it. So we were down to five until a student I've never met (he was new to the class in March) walked in with about 20 minutes left of our 100 minute class. My other senior classes tomorrow have larger rosters but about the same percentage of attendees. They have 14 class periods left before graduation. You'd think that wouldn't be so hard.

The two junior honors classes are reading Pride and Prejudice. They have to finish that book and give an oral presentation explicating a passage for the class. They have to also complete another oral presentation for the program assessment on their own time. Which means my own time, too. After school presentations. Every day for a week. Then they will read Hamlet, and then they will study a little Browning and possibly Keats and Yeats, who will be on your side if it's a dreaded sunny day. (Sorry about that. Every time I think of Keats and Yeats, the lyrics to The Smiths "Cemetery Gates" drag me back to 1986. Here's the song so you can sing along.)

And all of the above is supposed to happen in six weeks. My head hurts again.

At the end of the day, a soccer player popped her head in my room to say welcome back. (I had coached the girls soccer team for the past five years, but not this spring because of my leave.) I said hey and asked her how soccer was going. She shook her head and said that they're a good team, but they're not winning games. I said I missed being out there, and she said, "I find myself reaching the point sometimes where I need someone to start yelling at us." I laughed. She was talking about me. I do yell a lot as a coach. "We need a little more discipline out there this year," she said as she left for practice.

I started thinking. One of the things about teaching is that it's difficult to really tell if you're good at your job. You can love being there every day, or feel valuable as a meaningful part of someone's life. You can even witness the occasional epiphany and feel satisfaction that you might have had something to do with it. But knowing that you're actually teaching, that a student has actually learned and changed? Today's "reformers" will tell you a test score is enough to judge by. All I need is a student to pop her head in to say hi.

Like this.
That and a comfortable pair of shoes.